Even going to great lengths to puzzle out the strongest versions of the arguments Deneen seems to be making will get the reader only so far. Every one of his major claims disintegrates under scrutiny. You’re left with the impression that he barely understands his own ideas, and that he misunderstands entirely the thing he’s arguing against.
Deneen’s case rests almost entirely on the idea that left-progressive liberalism and classical liberalism, far from representing opposing worldviews, are in fact “identical, monolithic, and eager to deploy power in the name of enforcing individual expressivism.” What unites them, he says, is a commitment to unrelenting progress. Classical liberals (including many American conservatives) might emphasize economic dynamism, innovation, and wealth creation, while progressives are focused on liberating people from lifestyle constraints by clearing away what they see as outdated social institutions such as religion and the traditional family. But Deneen thinks these are really two sides of the same coin. Liberalism is progressivism, full stop.
But Deneen’s agenda also includes socially reactionary ideas (“renewed efforts to enforce a moral media”) and half-baked industrial policy (“domestic manufacturing in certain sectors should simply be mandated”). Often, his own means and ends aren’t even aligned. At one point, he names as a goal that “university education could be substantially reduced” and then, in the same paragraph, asserts that “vocational schools or tracks ought to be supplemented by required introductory courses in a university-level general education”—a proposal that would force people who want to pursue careers in the trades back into the classroom.
Deneen’s arguments frequently fall apart in just this way. Near the end of the book, he makes the case that a hallmark of liberalism is “separation” (e.g., between church and state) while a hallmark of conservatism is “integration.” Of course, economic liberalism includes a default commitment to allowing goods and people to flow across borders. Deneen waves this away, writing that “the ultimate logic” of globalization is “disintegration, the weakening and outright elimination of all cultural, geographic, traditional forms of membership,” apparently hoping readers won’t notice that the barriers to trade and immigration that he supports are ways of keeping us forcibly separated.
The new economic and social order incorporates six connected elements. The first is an aversion to trade. The new planners in Washington need trade barriers to limit competition with their protected national economy and reward special interests. But protectionist tariffs add to everyone’s bills. The U.S. has given up negotiating open markets abroad and lowering prices at home. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told a union panel in Detroit that trade policy had focused too much on liberalization, efficiencies and lower costs.
Second, the administration’s industrial policy requires huge subsidies for favored causes. Such policies are notoriously difficult to implement and require not-so-fine tuning. Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics has pointed out that the U.S., once the leading exporter of electric vehicles, provoked tariff escalations that pushed Tesla in 2018 to announce a manufacturing shift to China. Beijing is now the principal exporter of electric vehicles. Mr. Biden responded by subsidizing U.S. production. When the European Union threatened retaliation, the administration created a loophole for imports of leased vehicles, which escape even the restrictions that apply to U.S. production. Electric-vehicle imports, especially from the EU, continued to grow this year.
In another industry, the Commerce Department now has to decide which semiconductor producers to subsidize, for what types of chips, for how long and with what restrictions. If Washington orders companies not to sell any chips to China, American producers will lose earnings for research and development and expansion. Washington also has to decide what inputs must be produced at home—if feasible—and to expect retaliation.
A third element contributing to WOE: Antitrust authorities are blocking acquisitions on the theory that “big is bad,” regardless of consumer interests and price effects. As former Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris observed in these pages, the new policy reverses 40 years of bipartisan, principled economic standards and opens the door to political favoritism. The FTC, led by Lina Khan, wants to dismantle business models of entrepreneurs selling innovations to larger enterprises with more capital and marketing reach. That comes right as the advent of artificial intelligence and cloud services has intensified competition and probably will create opportunities for invention within more open-source systems.
Australian Senator Alex Antic on the WHO’s new Pandemic Treaty: “The lamentable WHO will dictate, they’ll be able to declare when a pandemic starts, declare when it ends, they’ll be able to declare when we have a lockdown… Why are we signing up to it?”